Imagine That

words by william defebaugh

 

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by william defebaugh

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“To the eyes of one of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” —William Blake

 

 

For quite some time, scientists and thinkers have believed that our exceptional imagination is what separates us from the rest of the natural world—that our ability to dream outside the confines of reality is inherently intertwined with our humanity and evolution. If that is indeed the case, the question then becomes: Is it our gift or our curse?

 

The answer, of course, is neither and both. Morality is a human concept; as we explored in our last issue, Flourish/Collapse, nature is more concerned with balance than paradigms of good and bad. So what is imagination out of balance? Escapism, otherwise known as a refusal to face reality.

 

In the climate space, we’re all too familiar with escapism; the majority of the public engaged in it for the last three decades, unwilling to accept that our actions would have severe consequences for people and the planet—much like the ones we are seeing today. Of course, denial can take many forms; just ask President Trump who, earlier this week, called himself “the No. 1 environmental president,” despite the havoc he is wreaking on one hundred environmental regulations and his decision to withdraw us from the Paris Climate Agreement.

 

So how do we come into right relationship with imagination? It starts with acceptance. It might seem somewhat paradoxical, but until we accept the reality of a situation, there is no improving it. To borrow an analogy from Greta Thunberg—one that is sadly becoming more literal than figurative—it’d be like standing idly by while your house is on fire. You can either accept the reality of the situation so that you can put out the flames, or you can be engulfed by them.

 

If there is a silver lining to this year, it’s that more people are accepting the reality of climate change and want to be educated about it. According to a new study, more than seven out of ten Americans want more climate coverage from the media. Once we accept the reality of a situation then we can imagine ways to make it better, which brings us to what imagination looks like in balance: artistry, our creative capacity to alter reality.

 

In last week’s newsletter, I wrote about the importance of filling your feed with stories of climate solutions as well as catastrophes. Stories of unprecedented numbers of political leaders and organizations pooling their minds on a climate plan, such as the resolution introduced by 79 members of congress and over 150 advocacy organizations on Thursday. Or of the company creating a 100% recyclable shoe, or the startup pioneering new microbial technologies that will allow plants to capture more carbon—as much as a quarter of all CO2 emissions. These are examples of artistry: people using their imaginations to create real solutions.

 

If imagination at its highest potential is artistry, how can we not understand the whole of nature to be the ultimate embodiment of it? A complex world of cause and effect that whether by default or design, drew itself into existence? For many, this year has been about confronting reality; now we must put an equal amount of energy toward painting a new one. As Maryam Hasnaa writes, “Change does not happen by simply trying to fight a flawed model. It comes from creating a new system that makes the old one obsolete.”

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